Sunday, January 1, 2017

What Might've Been: Saturday Night Live with Howard Cosell (1975)

Most fans of Saturday Night Live know that the NBC series, now in its 42nd season, was originally known simply as NBC's Saturday Night. Why? Blame it on ABC and an ill-advised idea involving one of their most iconic announcers.

Former lawyer Howard Cosell called boxing and Monday Night Football for ABC for many years. Someone convinced Cosell and ABC Sports head Roone Arledge to have Cosell front a variety show. ABC had had success with variety shows on Saturdays in the past (Hollywood Palace, Johnny Cash Show, The King Family Show), but the landscape had changed by 1975. All they did was swim against the tide, as Saturday Night Live With Howard Cosell barely got past Christmas before being cancelled.

Cosell actually entered Golden Throat territory, trying to do a musical number with the mentorship of no less than Andy Williams. Luckily, that clip isn't available. I really don't believe in torturing innocent folks. Anyway, what we do have is a clip of master magician Mark Wilson and family, introduced by Cosell, and posted by Greg Wilson (Mark's son).

As it happened, as Cosell signed off the stage at the Ed Sullivan Theatre in New York (now home to CBS' Late Show), ABC finally found the hit variety show they were looking for. Donny & Marie began their run in January 1976 on Friday nights.

No rating.


Mike Doran said...

This show came about because Roone Arledge and Howard Cosell decided, simultaneously, that they ought to expand beyond sports. Since Ed Sullivan had come to TV from years as a newspaper columnist, Arledge and Cosell believed that their already being in broadcasting would give them an advantage; they entered into partnership with Alan King for the showbiz end of things.
Also, they swung a deal with CBS for the use of the Ed Sullivan Theater, and convinced ABC (specifically Leonard Goldenson) to do the show live.
All for naught; after the show flopped, Arledge wound up taking over ABC News, where he had the greatest success of his career, while Cosell went back to sports, and ultimately to the bitterness that dominated his later life.

hobbyfan said...

I think King also had a hand in another mid-70's flop or three, if I remember correctly. As for the Sullivan connection, Sullivan, as memory serves, continued to write his Toast of the Town column in the NY Daily News while his show was in production, at least in the 60's.

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